(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — In the days after a federal judge in Texas ruled to reverse the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the widely used abortion medication mifepristone, Democrats have erupted in outrage.
Republicans, who for years made abortion restrictions a centerpiece of their politics, have remained mostly mum on the issue that looks set for a Supreme Court showdown.
Some in the GOP have suggested they are now on the “wrong side” of abortion, which polling has shown can be a leading issue to motivate voters — against possible restrictions.
By contrast, leading conservatives last June swiftly celebrated the Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade, praising the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision as putting the issue of abortion back in the hands of the people — in the states — and not having it determined by the court.
“The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Dobbs is courageous and correct. This is an historic victory for the Constitution and for the most vulnerable in our society,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement following the ruling in June. “Now the American people get their voice back.”
The Kentucky lawmaker has not yet remarked on last week’s decision.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi was the sole federal Republican lawmaker who directly lauded the ruling on Friday, calling it “a victory for pregnant mothers and their unborn children,” while Democrats — from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to a fleet of legislators in Congress — denounced it.
But triumphant GOP response to the Dobbs ruling, which was decided just months ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, came at a time when abortion appeared to be less politically fraught within the party.
In the months since, both exit polling after the 2022 midterms and a growing list of elections, in red and blue states alike, indicate that support for abortion access can sway voters.
Most recently, last week, liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by double digits, flipping the bench’s ideological balance ahead of a likely hearing on the state’s abortion restrictions.
Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina argued on Monday on CNN that her party has to approach abortion differently if they want to shore up public support.
“This is an issue that Republicans have largely been on the wrong side of. We have over the last nine months not shown compassion towards women. And this is one of the issues that I’ve tried to lead on, as someone who is pro-life and just has some common sense,” Mace said.
“We’ve got some extreme views on this issue, but 90% of America is somewhere in the middle,” she said.
Her fellow South Carolinian, Sen. Lindsey Graham, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Republicans need to show up to the ballot box with “reasonable positions” on the issue.
“If we have our head in the sand, we’re gonna lose,” said Graham, who is backing a proposed 15-week ban on abortions nationwide.
Democrats quick to decry the anti-abortion ruling
On Friday, directly after U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, sent down his decision, Democrats and abortion advocates decried what they called a “single federal district judge in Texas"” ban of medication used in more than half of all abortions in the country, noting that “everything is on the table” including filing an emergency stay motion.
Democrats — whom Republicans have sought to paint as overly permissive of abortions in all cases — also called the decision “the next big step toward the national ban on abortion” that some conservatives have vowed to make law, condemning a “political, ideological” attack.
“This does not just affect women in Texas – if it stands, it would prevent women in every state from accessing the medication, regardless of whether abortion is legal in a state,” Biden said in a statement on Friday.
On CNN, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York slammed the Texas ruling as “an extreme abuse of power” and suggested the extraordinary step of ignoring the courts if the justices were to uphold Kacsmaryk’s decision, noting that the Trump administration turned the other cheek to some immigration decisions.
Mace lent some support to that idea, despite her ideological differences with Ocasio-Cortez.
“This is an FDA-approved drug. I support the usage of FDA-approved drugs. Even if we might disagree, it’s not up to us to decide as legislators or even as the court system whether or not this is the right drug to use or not,” Mace said on CNN. “So I agree with ignoring it at this point.”
Republican comments remained vague and sparse
Meanwhile GOP reaction from among the party’s top ranks has been muted.
Former Vice President Mike Pence is one of the few leaders who has spoken out on the decision.
“Life won again today,” he said in a statement, contending that the FDA acted “carelessly and with blatant disregard for human life” in initially approving the drug.
Former President Donald Trump has largely remained silent on abortion in the months after the midterms but has maintained that pro-abortion restriction voters and candidates were to blame for the GOP losses in November — not him.
“It wasn’t my fault that the Republicans didn’t live up to expectations in the MidTerms,” Trump wrote in a Jan. 1 social media post.
He wrote that it was “the ‘abortion issue,’ poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters.”
Another leading GOP lawmaker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, didn’t outright praise the decision, instead commenting on the ruling by reacting to Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion that the FDA ignore it.
“Democrats don’t care about undermining the rule of law or the consequences that will come from destroying the institutions that protect the Constitution,” Cruz wrote in a tweet.
ABC News’ Anne Flaherty, Molly Nagle and Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.
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